Friday, July 3, 2015

Women on Bikes Series: Dani Weigand

I've been riding bikes since I was a kid and got my first MTB (a 10-speed Woodlands Schwinn) when I was 14. I've been in the dirt ever since. 

I do a lot of trail riding in Park City and grew up in Fruita, CO and have ridden those trails for a lot of my life. I actually worked with the city of Fruita to market tourism and mountain biking in that area before I moved to SLC. I also am a fan of cross country riding, my first big cross country ride was the White Rim about 6 years ago. That ride is a feat in itself, but it was special to me because it was my first MTB ride after having a hip replacement at age 32. That trip also introduced me to another female rider who is a significant inspiration in my life.

I've been racing in CO, UT and AZ for several years and after my second hip replacement at 37, I'm faster than ever. I'm no Cat I or II racer, but I've been a big success with my ortho team.

I participated in Utah's first ever all ladies MTB race, "Wildflower Trailfest" two years ago and am a big advocate for their events and for women riders because there just aren't enough of us!
My teammate, Krista and I have been friends for 13 years and even applied to be on the Amazing Race once. We ride under the team name "Rocket Girl and the Dirt Bitch:" Unruly, yes. But we're kind of crazy like that.  

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When did you first start riding a bike?
My fondness for bikes started with a pink frame, training wheels and a basket. I remember each of my bikes like I would remember a fond friend. What started as training wheels graduated to a Schwinn with a ridiculously large banana seat. Then there was the Sears brand road bike, which I crashed and that led me to my first mountain bike. A beautiful hot pink colored Schwinn Woodlands mountain bike with 10 gears. It was crazy heavy, but the freedom I felt off-road could not be matched. That bike lead me to a neon green Trek 1000 front suspension bike; then a Specialized FSR. And then, I had a brood. I'm the proud bike mommy of a Santa Cruz Blur, Schwinn cruiser and a Niner EMD. I am a firm believer in that the proper equation of the number of bikes a rider should have is what you currently own; plus one.  

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
My motivation and drive for riding comes from a childhood that kept me sedentary for some time. I was born with a condition called bi-lateral congenital hip dysplasia, which is doctor speak for my hip joints didn't form properly in the womb. This caused me to spend the first years of my life in a body cast and then leg braces that did not allow me to play like "other kids." Those braces came off just before I started grade school, and I went full-throttle until I was in my early 30s. I rode like the wind on anything with wheels until the hip dysplasia condition caused me to have to back off of riding because of the pain I was experiencing from arthritis. 

At 32 years-old I had my first total hip replacement. After many months of hard work, I was given clearance to ride a bike again. My first ride was the White Rim Trail, a multi-day trip near Moab, Utah. That trip rekindled my love for pedaling; the wind at my face, being borderline out of control on the downhills and grunting on the climbs. I was back and I was better than ever. 
After having my other hip replaced at age 36 I am riding stronger than I ever have and am grateful for each day my legs allow me to ride. The freedom I feel from my second lease on "life" keeps me moving to not just be strong, but to explore all that I can.  

You enjoy mountain and road biking, why do you enjoy those two styles?
If it has a crank and pedals; I have a love for it. 
Road biking is my zen time. I find a cadence and rhythm on the road bike that makes my brain unlock and release any stress from the day. Mountain biking is like dessert; the harder the climb, the more satisfying the decent. I find balance in both styles of riding which helps me excel as a cyclist. More importantly, riding helps me excel as a person through growth, pushing my body and letting the little things go.  

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
My favorite competitive cycling event is the Barn Burner 104 in Arizona. I love that event the most because it was the first race I had the invitation to ride in where all of my teammates were women. I loaded up my car and drove from Salt Lake City to the forest above Flagstaff. I rode with an amazing group of women, one of which has been my big-time adventure friend for over 10 years, and got my first taste of climbing onto the podium. I have been hooked ever since. 

Tell us about your Amazing Race experience-
My big-time adventure friend, Krista and I were sitting in a Jazz bar in Grand Junction 10 years ago and yucked it up about putting in an application for the Amazing Race. We hired a professional photographer for head shots; videotaped a mock race complete with chicken wrangling, 4-wheel-drive Jeeping and running to the 'finish line.' Even with Krista describing me as reminding her of Alf and me thinking of her as Callista Flockhart, we sadly were not chosen. However, we continue adventuring creating ridiculous stories along the way. Those TV producers don't know what they're missing! 

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
Of course I remember my first mountain bike ride! My dad took me on a trail called the Pollock Bench in Fruita, Colorado when I got my Woodlands. The trail has been since closed to bikes, but I remember two things. One, I thought the uphill would never end. Two, the downhill had me squealing with delight the entire way. All I could think about was doing it again and again.  

If you have nervousness, what do you do or think to overcome it?
I still have nervousness with my biking, but the thrill keeps me going. To date I have had three concussions, bruised ribs and have flipped over the handlebars so hard I came out of my shoes. I know I'll fall again. I know it's going to suck; but I don't care. I know riding can be risky business, but I never want to look back and feel regret because I wasn't pushing myself and my abilities.  

Do you use clipless pedals? If yes, what are some tips/suggestions for beginners that you would share? If no, are you thinking of trying it out?
There's a lot of talk out there about clipless vs. flat pedals and I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all approach. Every rider is different, but I prefer being attached to my bike. Has it caused some epic crashes? Yes. But I love the ability to take advantage of the up stroke. I learned how to ride clipless in my front yard, in the grass and I recommend the process. Grass is more forgiving than asphalt and I learned how to click in and out while moving with little collateral damage. 

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I seem to keep writing the book on biffing it and overcoming the consequences. I'm battling a bit of a demon right now not just with one of my bikes, but with a race as well. My Niner EMD and I are tight; but I lost my trust in negotiating that bike last fall when I flipped over the handlebars and landed on my ribs. I'll be riding my Niner in February for 24 Hours of the Old Pueblo, which is the race course that has the rock drop that flipped me over the handlebars so hard I came out of my shoe (yes, me and over the handlebars is a reoccurring theme). I'm nervous about taking the Niner over the rock drop this year, but I keep trying to visualize my clearing the drop like a boss. I'll let you know how it goes post race. *snicker* 

You have had a couple hip replacements at a young age, how did you go about the healing/recovery process? Was it hard to not be able to ride?
Overcoming my first hip replacement was one of the hardest things I had to do on a physical level. I waited too long to have the surgery which caused the rehabilitation process to take over a year. Not only did I need to regain my strength, I had to relearn how to walk without limping, which I had been doing for 20 years. I battled pain, fatigue and anger while I went through the rehabilitation process. When it was time to do my second hip replacement, I had to draw on a just as much emotional strength as I did physical strength, because I was having major surgery in the midst of a divorce. I have an amazing team of doctors, friends and family that encouraged me to continue improving and healing my body. I told my physical therapist at the University of Utah that even though I was undergoing a total joint replacement in January, I wanted to be on a bicycle in May. I still remember the look on his face when he asked me, "Are you sure?" I stood firm in my answer of yes and while there were many tears and a lot of swearing; I got on my bike in the spring and was racing again by the fall.  

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Switchbacks on the downhill always have been and still continue to be, a mystery. I go off the trail more often than I'd like to admit, but I keep jamming those corners because I plan to show them who is boss. I have learned from pointers from my man biking friends that looking ahead around the corner while entering the turn is the key. I have also found that if I put the corresponding foot back in the direction of the turn, my balance is better and I am more often able to clear the turn. 

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Right now I'm logging a lot of time on a Pro-Form spin bike in my living room! Winter in Salt Lake City makes riding tricky, so I spend a lot of time spinning as I gear up for race season. I have a Santa Crus Blur which is my down and dirty, fly off of jumps and do reckless stuff bike. It's my only full suspension bike and while I'm finding myself using it less than I used to, there's something about being nimble on the downhill. I'm short, clocking in at five-feet-tall, so when I'm banging around on my Niner EMD, I look a little bit like a small child who has stolen an adult bike. The Niner is my race/XC bike and my love for big wheels grows every time I ride it. My roadie is a Trek Madone - the only carbon frame I own. The Madone and I are one...it's my go to when I don't have much time to ride and I need a fix. Lastly, my Schwinn cruiser bike is rickety and silly, much like me. Complete with a Hello Kitty basket, Barbie bell and a clown horn; I call it my "Hello Kitty" bike. She gets me around town, to the office and off to Sunday brunch. 

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
Hands down, my favorite accessories are my RockShox Reverb seat post dropper and DZNuts Bliss chamois cream. After I got my Reverb, I found I could utilize the seat post height just as much as I use my gears. That adjustment on the fly allows me to keep rhythm and strength without having to downshift. And as far as the DZNuts; all I can say is it's all about bum comfort when you're spending a lot of hours in the saddle. Especially during a 24 hour race! 

What do you love about riding your bike?
What do I love most about riding? I think it's the fact that bicycles are the ultimate therapist. They don't judge you and they help set you free. If I'm happy, I ride and that happiness grows. If I'm having an icky day or feeling down, I ride and the tension goes away. For the most part I ride alone, so it's just me and the bike bonding while I sort out my thoughts. And while a bike may buck you off at times, a bike doesn't judge you for what you are feeling. I think we all need a bit of that in life.

Tell us about the group you ride with and why you enjoy the group ride atmosphere-
Most of my riding is done solo in Salt Lake City, but I have been riding with Sunday Cycles in Phoeniz, AZ for three years now. My friend Krista introduced me to the group and we just clicked. Part family; part Bad News Bears, we are a passionate group of riders who support each other as well as fuel our love for biking. I have recently joined an ambassador program for Wildflower Outdoor which are bike events for women, by women. They hosted the first ever women's only mountain bike race in Utah three years ago and I found that group to be not just driven to create good things for women bikers, but the support the group has for those who participate is unmatched. 

What are benefits you’ve encountered with riding with other people? What could happen to encourage more women to ride?
My group ride experience started with guys and was that way for quite some time. While I felt driven to try harder, ride faster and feel accomplished, I often felt discouraged because I couldn't keep up. I often felt intimidated by the trails or the speed at which people were riding and I think this is something a lot of women encounter when they first start riding. From my experience when I was riding to keep up I noticed I spent more time feeling shameful for holding people back or because my skill set wasn't as good as the others.  

I think this mentality is something women often time place on themselves unnecessarily because in our society we tend to feel apologetic rather than strong when we are doing new or challenging things. I learned from my guy friends that I didn't have to be badass all of the time; riding is about the company you share. I am a firm believer in women coaching women to share strength, vulnerability and bonding. 

I also believe strongly that you are only as fast as your slowest rider. That's mountain biking 101. If I'm feeling that I don't want to chase other riders or wait for a group, I ride alone out of respect for myself and others. Encouraging both independence and camaraderie is key for women riders to thrive in the cycling world.  

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
My inspiration for encouraging other women to ride is multi-faceted. I have battled physical and mental challenges through my experiences on bicycles and there is an amazing level of empowerment that I feel when I ride. As woman, I think it is important to foster both mental and physical strength. They are intertwined and one helps us grow with the other. 

I also found inspiration through a dear friend of mine, Sheila, who after her first taste of biking, grew to love and embrace it fully. I remember riding with her on two trips on the White Rim trail, as we struggled to reach the top of the last hill climb. Struggling through exhaustion, we climbed and climbed, encouraging each other to keep going so we could share whiskey and a hug at the top of the hill. Sheila's mantra was, "She thought she could, so she did." Those are words that I will repeat for as long as I can because I believe that as women, we can do anything we want to - especially when it comes to riding bikes!

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